Meals are a big deal in my family. Anyone who has experienced a Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, birthdays, or weekend meals with us knows that we aren’t fooling around. Anyone who has joined us also knows that we always find a place at the table for you. We have been known to adopt individuals, couples, and entire families into our gatherings. To be fair, a typical family meal starts out with a head count of 14, so adding a few more people really isn’t a big stretch. The point is, everyone is welcome to sit with us. To talk with us. To nourish their bodies and their souls with us. Because, let’s be honest, having a place at the table is about more than eating food.
So what happens when someone doesn’t eat? Do they get a place at the table? Should they have a place at the table? The answer to this is an emphatic, loud, bold,
Having Lyra join us at the table has been key part of her feeding therapy. After all, we are pretty sure that she doesn’t ever really feel hungry. But there is more to eating a meal than simply filling your stomach. There is a social aspect. Meals are a time when you bond with the people around you. For my family (and many others), meals play a key role in our social dynamic. Not having a place for her at the table for Lyra would be like saying there isn’t a place for her in the family. That is absolutely NOT true. So, she sits with us and holds court while we all eat. We have done this with her since she was able to sit safely in a high chair. And, we think it’s helping her learn about food and eating orally. Even if Lyra doesn’t feel hunger, she clearly enjoys some foods and will take a few bites with us at dinner. While she is still only willing to eat once a day, and only small amounts, it’s a start. More importantly, she clearly feels like she belongs with the rest of us. She is part of the (mostly) controlled chaos that is our family.
Recently there has been a little hiccup in having her at the table. Lyra’s chair is getting too small for her. No big deal, right? Just put her in a booster. That’s what you would do with an average child. But, Lyra isn’t an average child. Remember? She can’t safely sit in a booster seat. So, what do we do? Does she lose her place at the table?
This is a problem that many families with special needs children face. There are adaptive chairs, but they are (unsurprisingly) expensive. I swear, there is an extra unofficial tax that special needs families pay for everything. Medical care costs more, therapy, schooling, gas for your car (either extra driving or you need a bigger/special car), car seats, bathing equipment, etc. The list goes on and on. But a seat at the table? Should our children really be banned from joining such key time because there is no safe place for them to sit? Should families be forced to exclude their children from the table because they can’t afford one of these specialized chairs?
Luckily, I am not the only the one that feels this way. Our lovely feeding therapist let us know about an organization called Charlotte’s Day. This organization provides specialized chairs for children with feeding challenges free of charge. While they describe the advantages of these chairs for children like Lyra, the one thing the organization forgets to mention is what those chairs symbolize. They are a seat at the table. These chairs are safe place for these children to engage with those around them during one of most important bonding experiences people engage in. Sure, the chairs also help with posture and reduce fatigue to allow kids to focus on eating, but they do so much more then that. These chairs reenforce the idea that these children belong. They are loved, wanted, and accepted.
So, thank you. Thank you for giving my child a place at the table.
It’s impossible to get a toddler to look anywhere they don’t want to.